PharmExec Blog

Whither the Market Research Function?

imagesPBIRG’s 50th anniversary meeting strikes a note for change—because the alternative is a drift toward organizational irrelevance

It’s easy to be complacent about the harsh competitive challenges facing Big Pharma today. We all know what these challenges are, and the temptation is to address them in the abstract. As if all this complexity can be reduced to the simple format of a Harvard case study.

But I found something else entirely in participating as a discussion moderator at the annual meeting of the Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence and Research Group (PBIRG) in San Antonio, Texas earlier this week. Representing the interests of industry market research and competitive intelligence professionals, PBIRG and the more than 400 registered attendees put the focus squarely on a blunt proposition: that the function must do more to shape and profile the competitive landscape as a way to maintain its relevance to senior management or face the consequences in terms of declining internal clout, lower budgets, and staff redundancies. It entails ending for good the profession’s traditional image as the in-house “data watchdog,” whose principal clients—and occasional antagonist—were the big numbers/analytics vendors like IMS.

Although the program featured two keynote presenters that highlighted the importance of better public awareness of the industry’s value proposition around innovation, the most interesting discussions centered on how the market research profession must cope with market change. Suggestions included looking outward to identify connections from other adjacent industries; avoiding assuming that innovation must by definition embrace technologies that are “cutting edge,” as there is money to be made in the mundane; moving beyond reliance on traditional survey-based data; and realizing that the best research now relies on a “circular model” that is less didactic and educational than participatory and interactive—it’s the quality of the dialogue with “connected communities” that counts.

In fact, what emerged as the dominant theme over two days was the importance of the market research and intelligence function as a tool to build relationships that pay off in terms of a more intimate knowledge of just who the industry’s key customers really are today. It’s an important question to which no one has a precise answer. Surprisingly, repositioning market research as an internal advocate for unconventional strategies to foster external awareness was seen as a liberating move, with many attendees noting their frustration in depending on commercial brand leads to get anything done.

Pharm Exec sponsored a panel discussion featuring six members of our Editorial Advisory Board that focused on what the “C-suite” expects from the function going forward, with one action point being to progress the quality of data and analytics available in emerging country markets. Without this, it is hard to see how the industry can accurately assess where the true potential lies in leveraging the emerging market’s favorable demographics to fuel growth in the most promising therapeutic areas.

PBIRG, which celebrated its 50th anniversary during the annual meeting, also took a closer look at its own future as an institution. It was noted that there is often overlap between PBIRG and other associations active in promoting pharmaceutical market research. Thus, if PBIRG is to survive as a distinct enterprise, it will need to extend its remit to cover three associated activities: competitive intelligence, forecasting, and strategic planning. Another agreed objective—which should drive the work stream more generally—is to use the best new technologies to promote better information exchange within the group. “It’s year round connectivity that will really take us beyond the confines of the annual meeting,” said past PBIRG president and Pharm Exec Board member Cliff Kalb.

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One Comment

  1. Molly Jackson
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    What do you mean by (a “circular model” that is less didactic and educational than participatory and interactive)? Can you elaborate?

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